Published February 1, 2011. From Cook's Country.
Does a hefty price tag guarantee million-dollar muffins (and cupcakes)?
Bad muffin tins are a nuisance. They can warp, rust, or cause sticking, tearing your baked goods to shreds. If there is nowhere for your oven mitt to hold on to, it will get gummed up with batter or dent your fresh-baked cupcakes. And have fun scrubbing out each one of those little cups afterward
Six years ago, we tested muffin tins and decided on two "must-have" features: a nonstick coating and handles—or at least extended rims—for easy gripping. At that time, many muffin tins lacked handles or broad rims. This time around, I found eight models, priced from $14 to $30. Over the next few weeks, I turned into a muffin-making machine, cranking out more than 300 muffins (blueberry streusel and corn) and cupcakes (vanilla).
I watched how deeply and evenly the tins browned, how easily they gave up the goods, and whether form—how the muffins and cupcakes looked—reflected function. None of the muffins would have embarrassed us on a brunch table, but some looked more professional than others, with straighter sides and sharply defined bottom edges. The lightest-colored tins did not brown the muffins and cupcakes, forcing us to extend baking times and hover by the oven to get the color we wanted. Other tins browned muffins unevenly, indicating that they were poor heat conductors.
How nonstick were these tins? With cooking spray (something our muffin recipes require), corn muffins fell right out. Blueberry streusel muffins can be sticky with fruit and sugary topping, yet all of the tins released them fairly easily (a few required a couple of brisk shakes, which wasn’t a deal breaker for us). Cupcakes, with ample sugar in the batter, proved more of a challenge, even though the cups were greased and floured. Only one tin released cupcakes perfectly.
A few tins sport silicone handle tabs, which we assumed would be the easiest to grip. Actually, tins with wide, angled rims or raised lips all around proved easier to grab and hold with thick mitts than tins with small silicone tabs. One tin covered both bases: It had a raised lip plus large silicone handles.
You would never pry a muffin out of a nonstick pan with a metal utensil, right? Just in case, we simulated such scratching by running a dinner knife around a cup in each tin 25 times. While light scratches were apparent, the damage was minimal and didn’t affect any tin’s ability to release baked goods. We shocked the pans by heating them empty to 500 degrees and then plunging them into ice water. A few pans warped slightly, indicating less sturdy construction. To simulate a long stay in the sink without washing (hand washing is recommended for all of the tins), we smeared them with thick white sauce (bechamel) and let it harden overnight. The next day, testers had to scrape and scrub two tins, yet on two other models, the hardened sauce came right off.
I had hoped to find a tough, slick tin that produced perfect muffins and cupcakes. Instead, there were trade-offs. No tin scored high enough for us to rank it Highly Recommended, nor did any score low enough for us to rule it out. We found that you can economize on a tin without shortchanging your muffins: In other words, the expensive tins didn’t wow us. For its handsome muffins, reliable release, durability, affordability, and excellent handles, we do recommend one model—which happened to be our winning tin last time, too.